There was a story on CNN today, reporting about a hunter who paid $350,000 to save the black rhino species by hunting and killing one of its members. In order to raise funds to conserve the animals, the Namibian government held an auction for the heads of several of its rhinos. The hunted rhinos are all older males, with no reproductive future, and whose aggression makes them likely to kill off younger members of their own species, thus representing a threat to the herd. Because the government does not have the funds to conserve the rhino, and cannot staff its parks well enough to stave off poachers, these hunting auctions are considered a utilitarian move to protect the few remaining members of the species. The question remains, however, is this wise?
Several arguments occur to me. If the hunter is truly a conservationist with a big bank account, why not donate the funds to the Namibian government to hire more staff? Or, if it isn’t an abridgement of the animal’s freedoms to just do what animals do, why not create a private place for the animal to grow old and die? From the Namibians, we get the following: Even If the government had enough staff, these older rhinos would still pose a threat to the species, and might kill of the next generation of black rhinos. Regarding penning up the animal, the animal rights activists are vociferous in their demands that the animal be free, and that it would be a cruel and indefensible act to abridge an animal’s freedom.
So, what seems socially and morally repugnant is now being regarded as acceptable, innovative, and beneficial to the black rhino species. This begs several other questions about this kind of acceptance. Does destroying some members of the herd, in order to benefit the others, fit into the realm of our current morality? Additionally, are we willing to treat the human species as we do the animal species?
In other words, can we apply the utilitarian argument to other aspects of our society?
A few years back, there were talks about death squads in the new health care bill. Today, elderly patients are assessed and then a medical panel determines whether they are indeed worthy of receiving high-level care – we’re talking a new heart, or cancer treatment, or some pretty expensive and death-defying stuff here, but you get the point. Too, there are families across the nation, which refuse to vaccinate their children for fear of things like autism, allergic reaction, and/or just the whole idea of being forced to stick a dead-virus laden needle inside their kid.
I’m certainly not the person to decide what is morally permissible in this world, and I’m well aware that agreement on these issues is as likely as finding Jimmy Hoffa, however, I am getting older, and, in the next decade or two, the younger generation’s sense of morality may very well come into play for me. I might need that heart, or that cancer drug. I might want my kid’s fellow students to get their vaccinations. In other words, right now I’m the hunter, but very soon, I might become the black rhino.